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A Glimpse At Life A Century Ago Through The Sketchbook Of W.G. Read

One of the pitfalls of amassing an eclectic collection of “stuff” is that it’s often difficult to remember where and under what circumstances you acquired something. That’s the case with this sketchbook of W.G. Read’s. I came across it at least 30 years ago after having moved to Brooklyn from Madison, Wisconsin – that much I know. Other than that, I’m outta luck. . .

As is the case with just about any sketchbook, it’s a personal look into an artist’s way of working. His choice of what to draw, the attention to details that undoubtedly will be used as reference later, even an article clipped from a Canadian newspaper. You get a rare and intimate feel for Read’s process. There’s an 1866 calendar affixed to the inside back cover of this 3.5″ X 6″ booklet, but based upon what I’ve been able to find out (with the help of friends, Nancy Thomson and Margaret Walsh) about Read, it’s doubtful that the drawings date from that time period. According to the value source website Worthpoint.com., Walter G. Read (1863-1950) apparently worked in and around the New York area from approximately 1910-1930 and lived in Brooklyn. Based upon information included in his drawing of locations, as well as the newspaper clipping mentioned earlier, this particular sketchbook seems to indicate that he spent at least a portion of his time in Ontario, Canada. For instance, the firm W.D.Hepburn & Co. depicted in one of his studies is listed as a boot and shoe manufacturer located primarily in the western section of Ontario – possibly Prescott or Preston. Both these towns are on rivers (justifying the nautical themed sketches) and close to the New York border. Read also drew some fellas with Cricket bats – another UK/Canadian indication. All things considered, and taking into account the attire depicted, I’m guessing that these sketches were done in the 1880-1890 period.

W.G. Read’s  3.5″ X 6″ leather sketchbook. It’s helpful to keep these dimensions in mind while scrolling through the pics below. The pencil drawings are quite small and delicate. I chose to include many, but not all the pages in the sketchbook, to give a comprehensive feel of what his process must have been like. Please click on the images for closer, enlarged views.

The color images below were assembled from examples found online.

Two watercolor studies stamped "Estate Of Walter G. Read Brooklyn N.Y. 1915"

A Fairbanks Fairy Soap calender lithograph from 1898.

Theodore Roosevelt "Rough Riders" Lithograph 1898.

"The Sinking Of The La Bourgogne" Lithograph 1898.

Nancy Thomson and Margaret Walsh helped with research on this piece and Corrie Lebens assisted in production.

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